There is something alluring about the eerie, macabre side of life (or death, for that matter), so it’s not surprising that plenty of sinister, chilling places in history have become popular tourist attractions. From Western Europe to Asia, there are some truly creepy places to visit around the world – here are a few that are bound to make your hair stand on end. Additional content by Holly Dudley.
Catacombe dei Cappuccini, Palermo, Sicily
Whether it’s an incredible archive of history or a rather macabre tourist attraction, these catacombs house around 8,000 mummified friars and locals who were preserved between 1533 and 1920. Some of the mummies stand in all their finest clothes while description plaques offer quotes that make you consider you own mortality, such as: “What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be.”
Aokigahara Forest, Japan
Since Seicho Matsumoto’s novel Kuroi Kaiju (Black Sea of Trees) was published – with a scene in which two characters commit suicide in the Aokigahara Forest – it has been the spot du jour for suicides. Since the 50s over 500 people have killed themselves amongst the trees – with 78 people taking their lives in 2002 alone. And it’s now considered one of the creepiest places in Japan.
The authorities, recognising the morbid draw the forest has, have scattered signs encouraging suicidal people to think twice, with messages like “Think of your family!”. But visitors be warned: the forest covers such a vast area that not all suicides are discovered – so tourists run the risk of making a gruesome discovery.
Tyneham Village, England
Another ghost town – this time with a slightly less sinister story behind it – is the civil parish of Tyneham Village in Dorset, England. Just before Christmas of 1943, all residents were ordered out of their homes by the military as the then War Office (now the MoD) decided to use the site for firing ranges and training purposes. It was meant to be a temporary measure but the village has remained empty ever since, so the houses, post office, school, church and phone box have been left to crumble.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Vietnam
On this historic site, where Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence in 1945, now stands a memorial and mausoleum to the man himself. His body lies, preserved and cooled, in the central hall of the mausoleum, protected by military guard. Visitors can queue – sometimes for hours – to get a glimpse of the communist leader in his glass case. Upon entering the mausoleum tourists and locals are ushered along in a constant stream of people and the entire, quite bizarre experience, lasts for an uneasy 30 seconds.
Memento Mori, Bournemouth, England
“Remember you will die” is just one message the eclectic (to say the least) owners of this shop want to convey to the public of Westborne, Bournemouth. Selling everything macabre, from a fully articulated Victorian skeleton named Lizzie to an old headman’s axe once used for executions, the shop is not only an eccentric addition to this sleepy town’s retail industry, but also a fascinating lesson in medical and Victorian history. Pick the brains of Starla and Matt, who can tell you a story about pretty much any item in their shop.
Patarei Prison, Estonia
Explore the cells, corridors and work areas for a real sense of the stark and depressing life of a Soviet-era prisoner. Paterei opened as a sea fortress in 1840 and kept inmates confined between 1919 and 2004. Now it’s open to the public. There is an operating room where medical procedures took place on old, clunky equipment, and the bunk beds are rusty but still intact. Guided tours are available and will give plenty of history and context to your eerie surroundings.
The Overtoun Bridge, Scotland
In the sleepy little Scottish village of Milton lurks the now internationally-known Overtoun Bridge. This gothic looking construction has, since the 1950s, been the site of at least 50 canine deaths. According to witnesses, dogs inexplicably get the urge to leap to their deaths from the side of the bridge, leading to claims that something paranormal is causing dogs to commit suicide at this particular spot. It’s been observed that some dogs who survive the fall recover, then climb back onto the bridge to jump all over again!
Overtoun has a reputation as the site of paranormal phemonena in Celtic mythology – a place of dark deeds and tragedy. Some think that sensitive dogs are being spooked by something at the bridge, but there might be a more earthly reason for this phenomenon. The majority of suicidal canines are long-nosed breeds – Greyhound, Labrador, Retriever – all leap from the same side of Overtoun and usually do so on clear days, which some have said supports the theory that the bridge’s banks are home to some particularly aromatic form of rodent. Whatever the truth is, we’ll be keeping our doggies on the lead if we venture near Overtoun…
The Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
In the 13th century, demand for burial space in the Sedlec cemetery soared after soil from the Holy Land was sprinkled on the ground there. This continued into the 19th century, when in 1870 the priests decided to do something with the bones. Using bones like human lego, Czech woodcarver František Rint used them to decorate and furnish the chapel – now thought to contain the remains of 40,000 to 70,000 people.
Although extremely creepy, the Ossuary is also a testament to Rint’s skill. He used his unusual material to fashion, amongst other things, two monstraces to adorn the main alter and a unique coat-of-arms for the noble Schwarzenberg family. But the pièce de résistance is the enormous chandelier in the centre of the chapel’s nave, constructed of every bone in the human body.
Isla de las Muñecas, Mexico
Within a swamp south of Mexico City you’ll find Isla de las Munecas, or the Island of the Dolls. The story goes that in the 60s a little girl drowned in the Xochimilco waterways around the island. Soon after, the island’s only inhabitant, recluse Don Julián Santana Barrera, found a doll – thought to be the little girl’s – in the water. In the following days he discovered more dolls and became convinced that they were a paranormal sign. He started collecting dolls and hanging them all over the island, in the belief that they were vessels for spirits that kept the dead girl company and protected his island from further tragedy.
This went on and Isla de las Munecas became the stuff of nightmares with hundreds of mutilated dolls hanging from the trees. Then, in 2001 Barrera died in mysterious circumstances. Many now believe that the spirit-inhabited dolls murdered him in some real life version of the Chucky movies. This rumor is further supported by claims that the dolls come alive at night.
Winchester House, USA
Seemingly endless hallways, secret passages, crazy twists, doors opening onto walls… Winchester House is like something out of a mystery novel. But it’s 100% real. After the death of her husband and daughter, Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester firearms company, visited a soothsayer. During their exchange, she was told something paranormal was at work and the spirits of all those killed by Winchester rifles were haunting her. To calm them she needed to build a house – and never stop building. So construction of the 160-room complex began shortly after in 1884 and didn’t end until 38 years later, when Sarah died.
The sprawling mansion is infused with creepy details designed by Sarah to confuse the spirits, including dead ends and staircases that lead to nowhere. The house is decorated throughout with a spider motif, which she believed had spiritual meaning, and everything is arranged in multiples of 13. It’s a disconcerting place where you’re aware you could get lost at any moment – and reports have been made of banging doors, flashing lights and owner-less footsteps ever since the house was opened to the public.